October 2008

Andrew Wessels


Souvenir de Constantinople by Donna Stonecipher

Vacillating between East and West, love and lust, Donna Stonecipher’s second book, Souvenir de Constantinople, exploits our combination of fear and fetish of the unknown to weave a striking travelogue-in-verse. The book-length poem is presented in a series of atmospheric vignettes written primarily in brief couplets, interrupted periodically with parentheticals and postcards.

Stonecipher begins with relatively basic binaries -- East and West, lover and loved -- and deepens them by focusing on the space between the locus points and where the atmospheres of each interact:

It started
with a word, a glittering

Constantinople: a vault

of atmosphere
unlocked, the scent of


The journey through Constatintople becomes a journey of external discovery and internal revelation, an exploration of physical lust and emotional attachment.

Stonecipher currently lives in Berlin and Athens, Georgia, where she is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Georgia, and was raised in Seattle and Teheran. This multi-faceted background comes to good use as Stonecipher explores what it means to encounter the foreign:

I wanted to be
the message in the transatlantic

discrete —

pushed hydraulically through
gradations of dépaysant

blue — Egyptian,
Prussian, bluebird

blue —
I wanted, pent,

to look through
my prison of glass

At times the narration drifts too far from the center and into an ambiguity that threatens to lose the reader. However just as these moments threaten to lose the reader completely, the cyclical nature of the poem becomes a safety-valve returning the reader to stable ground. In the end, these sections become among the most memorable, just as the most disconcerting moments during one’s travel, when one cannot communicate, when one is lost without a map in a foreign city, become the highlights of a trip upon a safe return:

And where will my vanishing

points converge, foreigner
with my foreigner


(moving in and out of
the mosques, timing

my love for you to the call
of the muezzin)

(my Turkish

By the end of these 96 pages of loosely connected memories a coherent whole begins to emerge, though a whole that also contains negative spaces. Eventually the points of origin where the poem and travels began become lost and in fact unnecessary as the greater focus of the poem finally comes into view:

How to bridge the two
banks when what

one finds one
cannot extract the mind from is

the bridge?

It seems to matter less whether two disparate objects become connected than the connection itself -- the invisible bridge that links them. It is here, between the push and the pull of life, that Stonecipher’s poetry rests -- a bridge, a travel-guide, the pause between question and answer.

Souvenir de Constantinople by Donna Stonecipher
Instance Press
ISBN: 0967985455
96 Pages